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The Cherokee Removal
Group C Readings
by Jennifer Erbach

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Committee on Indian Affairs | Speech of Robert Adams

The following excerpts are taken from a report from the Committee of Indian Affairs on the Removal of Indians, delivered to the House of Representatives on February 24, 1830.

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The most active and extraordinary means have been employed to misrepresent the intentions of the Government, on the one hand, and the condition of the Indians on the other. The vivid representations of the progress of Indian civilization, which have been so industriously circulated by the party among themselves opposed to emigration and by their agents, have had the effect of engaging the sympathies, and exciting the zeal, of many benevolent individuals and societies, who have manifested scarcely less talents than perseverance in resisting the views of the Government. Whether those who have been thus employed, can claim to have been the most judicious friends of the Indians, remains to be tested by time. The effect of these indications of favor and protection has been to encourage them in the most extravagant pretensions. They have been taught to have new views of their rights. The Cherokees have decreed the integrity of their territory, and claimed to be as sovereign within their limits, as the States are in theirs. They have actually asserted such attributes of sovereignty, as, if indulged, must subvert the influence, and effect a radical change of the policy and interests of the Government, in relation to their affairs. Some of the States, within whose limits those tribes are situated, have determined, by the exercise of their rights of jurisdiction within their territorial limits, to repress, while it may be done with the least inconvenience, a spirit which they foresee, may, in time, produce the most serious mischiefs. This exercise of authority by the States has been remonstrated against by those who control the affairs of the Indians, and application has been made to the Federal Government to interpose its authority in defence of their claim to sovereignty.

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No respectable jurist has ever gravely contended, that the right of the Indians to hold their reserved lands, could be supported in the courts of the country, upon any other ground than the grant or permission of the sovereignty or State in which such lands lie. The province of Massachusetts Bay, besides the subdued lands already mentioned, during the early period of its history, granted other lands to various friendly tribes of Indians. Gookin, the great protector and friend of the Indians, about the time these grants were made, was asked, why he thought it necessary to procure a grant from the General Court for such lands as the Indians needed, seeing that "they were the original lords of the soil?" He replied, that "the English claim right to the land by patent from their King." No title to lands, that has ever, been examined in the courts of the States, or of the United States, it is believed, has been admitted to-depend upon any Indian deed of relinquishment, except in those cases where, for some meritorious service, grants have been made to individual Indians to hold in fee-simple.

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The Committee do not understand, that, either the States, or the Federal Government, ever acted upon the principle, that it was necessary to obtain the consent of the Indians, before the right to exclude all competitors from the market of their lands could be asserted. It is asserted, upon the ground of ownership and political sovereignty, and can be sustained upon no other principles than those which our ancestors supposed to be well founded, when they denied to the Indians any right to more land than they required for their subsistence by agriculture. The Indians are paid for their unimproved lands as much as the privilege of hunting and taking game upon them is supposed to be worth, and the Government sells them for what they are worth to the cultivator. The difference between those values is the profit made by asserting the original rights of discovery and conquest. The rigor of the original rule has been mitigated in the exercise of this right of pre-emption, in regard to such lands as have been improved by the Indians, for the same reason that their right to such as they had subdued, was respected by the colonists in the early period of their history. Improved lands, or small reservations in the States, are, in general, purchased at their full value to the cultivator. To pay an Indian tribe what their ancient hunting grounds are worth to them, after the game is fled pr destroyed, as a mode of appropriating wild lands, claimed by Indians, has been found more convenient, and certainly it is more agreeable to the forms of justice, as well as more merciful, than to assert the possession of them by the sword. Thus, the practice of buying Indian titles is but the substitute which humanity and expediency have imposed, in place of the sword, in arriving at the actual enjoyment of property claimed by the right of discovery, and sanctioned by the natural superiority allowed to the claims of civilized communities over those of savage tribes.

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If the Committee have not wholly misstated the condition of the Southern Indians, It will be apparent, that the common feelings of humanity, besides the obligations incurred in the past intercourse of the Government with them, require, that whatever means may be constitutionally employed, should be liberally applied for their relief. If they remain where they are, the experience of two centuries has shown, that they eventually must perish. The assimilation of the two races, which has been commenced, cannot be relied on to save such masses as the Southern tribes present. The common Indian is already in danger of being regarded as a degraded caste in his own country. The experiments which have been made, do not furnish any very flattering evidence of the practicability of civilizing Indians, in large masses, under any circumstances; but the efforts commenced and superintended by such men as Elliot and the Mayhews appear to have been, seem to be conclusive, as to the fate of the Indian when in contact with the whites. If the past could be recalled, and the eight or ten thousand Indians, including children, who, it is said, at one time, in Massachusetts and New Plymouth colonies, attended church regularly and orderly, supplied many of their own teachers, and a great portion of them being able to read and write, could be transplanted into some territory upon the Western frontier, and there, under the protection of the whites, but free from the actual and constant presence of a superiority which dispirits them; and from those vices which have always been their worst enemies, the problem of Indian civilization might be solved, at last, under the most favorable circumstances. If the condition of the Southern tribes is not so flattering as that of the Indians of New England, at the period alluded to, still, the improved condition and habits of the mixed race would be a great advantage in any attempt to elevate the condition of the common Indian, in a new country. Whatever civilization may be found among them, and the more there is of it the better, may be made the basis of a society West of the Mississippi, which may have the happiest effects upon the condition of all the Western tribes. This plan, at all events, offers a prospect, which may never again occur, of atoning, at last, for any wrongs inevitably incident to the settlement of the country by the white race, in a manned worthy of the character of the Government. To give the experiment every advantage in the power of the Government, their new country should be secured to them in such a manner, that they would cease to be haunted with the prospect of future changes in their residence. The stimulant, so powerful and important in its effects upon the white man, of a separate and exclusive property in lands, with the privilege of transmitting it to their children, should be supplied to the Indians, in their new country, under such guards against the improvident disposition of them by the grantee, as prudence may dictate. To these provisions, it would seem, must be added ample means of moral instruction; without these, there can be little hope of reclaiming the present generation of the common Indians, or of securing the amelioration of the next.

The country which has heretofore been designated as proper to be allotted to the Indians, although not exhibiting the same variety of features with some portion of the country now occupied by them, possesses, in the outlet which it affords to a great western common and hunting ground, not likely to become the early abode of the white race, an advantage and relief to the adult Indians of the present generation, which, in the opinion of the committee, cannot be supplied in any other shape. If this country is secured to the Indians, or such portions of it as shall be satisfactory to them, it is believed the greatest objection will be removed which has heretofore existed with any portion of the more sagacious Indians, having no more than a common interest in remaining where they are, to the plan of emigration. If such measures shall be resorted to as will satisfy the Indians generally, that the Government means to treat them with kindness, and to secure to them a country beyond the power of the white inhabitants to annoy them, the influence of their chiefs cannot longer prevent their emigration. Looking to this event, it would seem proper to make an ample appropriation, that any voluntary indication, on the part of the Indians, of a general disposition to remove, may be seconded efficiently by the Government.

Committee on Indian Affairs. Removal of Indians, Delivered in the House of Representatives, 21st Congress, 1st Sesson, 24 February, 1830 pp. 2, 5-6, 25.

The following is an excerpt from a speech given by Senator Robert Adams (Mississippi) in April, 1830 during a debate in the Senate over the Indian Removal Bill.

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The question which is submitted to us by the bill itself, as reported to the Senate by the Chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs, is this: —Whether Congress will authorize the President of the United States to exchange territory belonging to the United States, West of the river Mississippi, and not within the limits of any State or organized territory, with any tribe of Indians, or the individuals of such tribe, now residing within the limits of any State or Territory, and with whom the United States have any existing treaties, who may voluntarily choose to make such exchange for the lands which such tribe of Indians, or the individuals of such tribe, at present occupy ; to compensate individuals of those tribes for improvements made upon the lands they now occupy; to pay the expenses of their removal and settlement in the country West of the Mississippi, and provide them necessary subsistence for one year thereafter.

The authority contemplated by the bill is to make the exchange of territory with those Indians, and with those only, who are willing to make it. The friends of this measure do not wish to vest power in the President of the United States to assign a district of country West of the Mississippi, and, by strong arm, to drive these unfortunate people from their present abode, and compel them to take up their residence in the country assigned to them. On the contrary, it is their wish that this exchange should be left to the free and voluntary choice of the Indians themselves.

Is there any thing alarming in this proposition? any thing to cause that fear and trembling for the fate of the unfortunate Indian, which have been manifested in the opposition to this bill? Is there any thing to call forth those animated-denunciations against those who disregard and violate the faith of treaties? As if those who support this measure were ready to prostrate at the foot of their own sordid interest the honor of the nation, and inflict a stain upon her escutcheon that all the waters of the Mississippi could not wash out I confess, for my own part, I can see nothing in the provisions of the bill before us, unbecoming the character of a great, just, and magnanimous nation. And, indeed, if I had heard only so much of the eloquent speeches of those who oppose the passage of the bill as enjoined upon us the strictest good faith in the observance of treaties, I would have concluded that they were the warmest advocates of the proposed measure.

As early as the year 1802, the United States entered into a compact with the Stale of Georgia, which compact was ratified in the most solemn manner, being approved by the Congress of the United States and by the Legislature of the State of Georgia. By this agreement, the United States obtained from the State of Georgia a cession of territory sufficient, in extent, to form two large States, and in part consideration for such an immense acquisition of territory, agreed, on their part, in the most solemn manner, to extinguish, for the use of Georgia, the Indian title to all the lands situated within the limits of that State, "as soon as the same could be done peaceably and upon reasonable terms," Although this is not, in the technical sense of the term, a treaty entered into by the United States with the State of Georgia, yet it is an agreement upon a full and valuable consideration, and good faith on the part of the United States requires its fulfilment, according to its true spirit and intent. The bill under consideration proposes a mode by which this agreement may be performed; by which the Indian title to all the lands within the boundaries of that State may be extinguished, peaceably, and upon reasonable terms. Peaceably, because it is only to operate upon those Indians who are willing to remove. And upon reasonable terms, because they are to receive other lands in exchange for those which they give up; just compensation for improvements made by them; the expenses of their removal and settlement paid, and subsistence for one year furnished them.

Would it not, therefore, have been reasonable to suppose, that those who have said so much about the high and sacred obligation of treaties? and how essentially the great name of every nation depends upon their strict observance, would be amongst the foremost and warmest supporters of the bill under consideration?

Adams, Robert Huntington. "Speech of Mr. Adams, of Mississippi, on the Bill to Remove the Indians West of the Mississippi. Delivered in the senate of the United States, April, 1830," (Washington: Duff Green, 1830) pp. 3-5.

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